September 8th, 2008 | Posted in Freelancing

Deadlines conquered… again. I had to pull an all-nighter last night to wrap up that MAD job but as they say in the business it’s “in the can!” (okay, that reference is actually from the movie business reffering to when filming is complete and the film reels are in their metal containers, but who cares?).

I sometimes get comments from fellow cartoonists and/or illustrators about the amount of work I do, and it’s assumed I must work very fast to squeeze in that kind of volume. In truth I don’t really work that fast, and any reputation I may have for being prolific is much more a function of endurance than speed. When things get overwhelming and deadlines get out of hand, I can shut down the rest of my life and work 18 hours straight in the studio daily, with about 2 hours personal time for luxuries like eating, showering and making sure none of my family has run away and joined the circus, and around 4 hours of sleep. I can survive like that for about a week before it catches up to me. Usually even the toughest of jobs will only take a few days of that kind of intensity to finish, and in general one to two of those a month in all I need to keep things rolling. No, The Lovely Anna doesn’t like it, but she just pretends I am out of town on business. If I bump up the sleep to between 5 and 6 hours a night, I can go indefinitely.

It’s the all-nighters that can kill you.

I try to avoid those at all costs these days. It takes either a mix-up on the deadline or some unforeseen complications to force me to stay up all night to finish a job. It’s not healthy. Willpower can overcome most physical limitations for a while but eventually the body will demand it’s basic needs. It’s also not just a matter of staying awake… you have to stay sharp and able to do your work at a high level. That’s what makes all-nighters dangerous… if you work suffers then you might as well have just blown the deadline. I’d rather do that then turn in lousy work. When I start hallucinating, that’s when I call it quits. I’ve gotten the crap scared out of me at 4 am in the studio when I think I catch movement in my peripheral vision, and the dark man-shape that startled me turns out to be my very immobile Batsuit on a mannequin. Actually I’ve discovered that it’s best to avoid all-nighters completely by taking 1 hour power naps rather than attempting a total night without sleep.You might be tired, but it will prevent you from completely shutting down.

Really the only time I can pull an all-nighter these days is on a job where the final stage is done in my digital line-and-color style. The computer is much more forgiving than, say, inking. I can listen to some audiobooks to keep focused and on-task, and then just sit down in my expensive and ergonomic task chair and color the crap out of whatever I am working on until the sun comes up.

Today is “recovery day”. After a job like that is finished by and all-nighter, I grab a few hours of sleep and then drag myself up and slog through the rest of the day. I avoid any caffeine. I try and get a little exercise, but lifting weights is pointless as I lack the concentration and strength needed to accomplish anything in the gym. I try and do left-brain, analytical things and let the creative side of my brain heal. Then I force myself to go to bed at a decent hour… that’s harder than it might seem as my body is now used to working at night and I will become more alert and awake as the night gets later. The worst thing you can do is resort to any kind of sleeping aid to get to sleep, especially alcohol. If I feel it will be a major problem getting to sleep, I will take some melatonin and a substance called 5-HTP about a hour before bed. Both are natural substances that help regulate your body’s seratonin levels, and will help your body put ITSELF to sleep and keep it asleep. They also will not interfere with your sleep patterns/REM phases of sleep and will allow you to get the restorative rest your brain and body need to rejuvenate itself. A friend of mine turned my on to the 5-HTP as he had the same problem with melatonin I had… that it would put me to sleep but I’d wake up after 4 hours or so and be unable to get bacK to sleep. 5-HTP has more of a long lasting effect, so together they work well. You can get them both at your local vitamin store.

Time to get on with recovery day!


  1. stephen silver says:

    This doesn’t sound like an all nighter, it sounds like a nightmare! Remember what our good buddy John Lennon said. ” Like is what happens to you while your busy making other plans”
    Make sure you get some fresh air, it feels good.


I’m in LA doing back to back Caricature workshops. Here’s the class illustration of workshop no. 1. Visit for all the details and to see where others are scheduled in 2018!

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